A central provision of the historic Voting Rights Act of 1965 faced heavy fire Wednesday from the right-leaning members of the U.S. Supreme Court, indicating that this "bulwark against racial discrimination in voting" is under real threat.
The Supreme Court Justices took in oral arguments regarding Section 5 of the VRA, the point of contention in Shelby County v. Holder, which requires all or parts of 16 “covered” states with long histories and contemporary records of voting discrimination to get federal clearance before making any changes to their voting laws.
Recalling earlier racial statements made by GOP nominee Mitt Romney of "gifts" to minority groups, Justice Antonin Scalia inflamed many civil rights proponents when he suggested that the continuation of Section 5 represented the "perpetuation of racial entitlement." Adding, "Whenever a society adopts racial entitlements, it is very difficult to get out of them through the normal political processes."
Progressive advocacy group Demos responded to the statement calling it "a shameless inversion of history," adding, "Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act has stood as a bulwark against racial discrimination in voting. It is widely recognized as one of the most effective and important civil rights laws ever enacted in this country."
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. also challenged the defense with a skeptical question about whether people in the South are more racist than those in the North.
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who many look to as the swing vote in this case, asked how much longer Alabama must live “under the trusteeship of the United States government.”
"The Marshall Plan was very good, too—the Northwest Ordinance, the Morrill Act—but times change," Kennedy added, indicating skepticism over the continuation of the rule.
Before heading inside to hear the arguments, hundreds of civil and voting rights advocates rallied on the Supreme Court steps Wednesday morning.
“The literacy tests may be gone but we still need Section 5 and that is why we are here today,” Congressman John Lewis (D-Ga.) told the crowd.
“The Voting Rights Act restored justice, equality, and fairness to our country’s most sacred right,” added Rep. Rubén Hinojosa (D-Tex.), chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. “We are now witnessing unprecedented attacks on the right to vote and now more than ever.”